Interview: Stephen Malkmus
Published on November 28th, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
Stephen Malkmus could have gone into hiding following the dissolution of Pavement and been assured of legendary status, but the man’s just got too much music in him.
Wig Out at Jagbags, his fourth album with the Jicks and sixth altogether post-Pavement, arrives on January 6th and we shan’t even attempt to paraphrase the accompanying blurb:
“Wig Out at Jagbags is inspired by Cologne, Germany, Mark Von Schlegell, Rosemarie Trockel, Von Spar and Jan Lankisch, Can and Gas; Stephen-Malkmus-imagined Weezer/Chili Peppers, Sic Alps, UVA in the late 80’s, NYRB, Aroma Charlottenburg, inactivity, Jamming, Indie guys tring to sound Memphis, Flipper, Pete Townshend, Pavement, The Joggers, The NBA and home life in the 2010’s…”
The album will be swiftly followed by a string of UK dates, and if our previous experience of Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks in a live setting is anything to go by then we urge you to find your way to one of them.
Rocksucker was honoured to get the chance to fire some questions at one of our all-time favourite musicians; first, though, have yourself a simultaneous earful of and butcher’s at this delicious slice of new album jerky…
Quite a few of the songs on Wig Out at Jagbags have been around for a while, being performed live and whatnot. When did they all come together as an album in your mind?
Our last record Mirror Traffic didn’t come out until after the Pavement reunion tour, which was a while ago, but it was recorded before that so it’s been a while since we’ve released something that was new.
So we started playing some of the tunes and developing them. Not every show we play is like the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, let alone Wembley, so we play small gigs and that gives us a chance to work on our stuff.
That’s one of the benefits of not being a giant band: we can play smaller venues, and most people don’t mind hearing new songs at our level. We’re not boring them with something they don’t understand or haven’t heard, so we’re able to work on stuff in a live environment.
Some of the songs have changed titles during the process: do these include “Flower Children”, “PR Tomb”, “Take It or Leave It” and “Blind Imagination”?
“PR Tomb” is on the album, but “Flower Children” and “Blind Imagination” didn’t make the cut. “Take It or Leave It” is probably on there, but it’s the title of a Strokes song.
I often change song titles at the last moment, overthink how it looks in a line on the back of the album, or if there are too many words in the title. The kind of ‘go to’ thing in the world these days is two words that sound good together.
Two words makes for the perfect yin and yang, but there are so many two-word titles I like that I really need a one-word title, or two words smashed into one word, or three words, or a phrase. Sometimes it doesn’t even relate to the song, it’s just how it looks.
Or there’s the Guided By Voices model, which is to just rope together four apparently unrelated words.
Is the title a reference to Dag Nasty’s Wig Out at Denko’s? In which case should it have been Wig Out at Remko’s in honour of Remko Schouten, who co-produced the album with you?
Yeah, it could be Wig Out at Remko’s! It is sort of an appropriation of that title, but whatever my mind said in a weird way…I’m not especially a fan of Dag Nasty but I do know that song “Wig Out at Denko’s”, and it’s a great title. So why not appropriate it a bit?
I’m in a fantasy basketball league with these guys from Chicago and about two years ago they used the word ‘jagbag’ to refer to someone who was talking trash or talking too much. It stuck with me for whatever reason.
Last year, you performed Can‘s Ege Bamyasi album in full at Week-End Fest in Cologne. Can you see yourself taking on another project like this in the future?
I can’t imagine doing that again – a friend of mine arranged that – but if someone asked me to do something like that again as a one-off at a festival and I had some free time, like I did in Germany, then I’d definitely consider it.
It takes two months out of your life just getting it together, though. That’s a large commitment just for one gig, but it was worth it because I got to meet all the Can guys and this band called Von Spar, who were the backing band. It was a great experience and there’s a document of it.
What’s Beck like to work with, as you did on Mirror Traffic? There were those Wayne Coyne quotes a few years ago that painted him as rather an awkward customer…
Well, I wouldn’t trust Wayne Coyne about that. He’s got a lot to say about everybody. Beck’s a great guy and great to work with, but as it turns out I work better without a producer. It takes some of the extra ideas that I come up with…if I’m forced to do it myself, it makes it more idiosyncratic and better.
There are good things about working with another person, and I guess it’s interesting over the course of eight or nine albums. But Beck’s good to work with, and he’s got a new album coming out soon from what I understand. You won’t be talking to him about football, though; he’s not into sports, just music and his family it seems.
What’s the highest score you’ve ever received for a single word on Scrabble? I once got 212 points for ‘THAWINGS’. It covered two triple word scores. Still very proud of that one.
Once I got ‘CHUTZPAHS’ when I was playing with Bob [Nastanovich, erstwhile Pavement and Silver Jews bandmate], but online lately I’ve gotten some really high scores. There was an eight-letter V word I got on a triple triple but I can’t remember what it was. I got ‘REZEROS’ once; that was pretty big.
Finally, have you ever met Mark E. Smith, and if so how was he?
I’ve never met him but most people that have seem to like him. I’d be kind of shy about walking up to him.
The Fall were at the ATP where Pavement had a reunion show, and he was there at one of the chalets not so far from me, standing on the porch smoking. It would have been a forty of fifty foot walk up to him, just me by myself because it was kind of uncrowded back there, and I couldn’t handle that walk.
You’ve probably been in that situation before, where there’s someone who you’d like to go up to and say, “Hey, I like what you did,” and you’re thinking, “Should I do it? Shouldn’t I?” So yeah, it never happened.
Stephen Malkmus, thank you.
Wig Out At Jagbags will be released January 6th on Domino.